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Pennies from Heaven?

David Bannister
Piano [Converted]

My tastes in music are very varied but when we sit around the dining table in the evening, my choice is often to listen to the Great American Songbook, that collection of songs and ballads mostly dating back to the 50s.  So, I was very sorry to hear of the recent passing of its greatest exponent, Tony Bennett. Some years ago, I was at a conference in San Francisco and on the final evening, we all had dinner and our host announced a “special appearance”. We were then entertained to a private cabaret by the great man himself. Believe me, hearing him sing “I left my heart in San Francisco” when the bay is just the other side of the wall is quite something. I have seen him in the UK in concert twice since then and was always captivated by his wonderful voice and demeanour. As some of you reading this may know, he was also a very accomplished artist some of whose paintings hang in illustrious galleries. So, if you are ever stuck for something to get me for my birthday…

Recently, a friend called me and told me that, as a consequence of the acquisition of the business for which he worked, he was facing redundancy.  He told me how the matter had been handled and it had not been done well. The recommended procedure had not been followed and, as someone who knows quite a lot about employment law as I have always taken an interest, I helped him to prepare for a meeting to discuss things with his employer. One of the items he proposed was that his employer should finance a consultation with a lawyer expert in the field. They agreed and he proceeded to discuss their (I thought) derisory offer of severance with the solicitor he selected with some help from me. He updated me as matters progressed and his solicitor, clearly not one of Scotwork’s alumni, haggled the way to a settlement which was significantly, and rightly, a substantial improvement on the original offer from the employer. The deal centred on the financial aspect of the settlement and my friend was very content with the outcome. I bit my tongue when he spoke to me as I thought the lawyer could have introduced more variables to enrich the deal – keep the computer, maintain benefits for a time, be the author of the announcement of his departure and so on.  My experience from teaching them on our courses is that lawyers are not the best negotiators, they tend to focus on a financial outcome and can miss opportunities to enhance their deals. My friend, however, was truly happy as his ultimate settlement was very significantly greater than the original basic offer from his employer.

If you are still with me, you have read two apparently entirely unconnected paragraphs and are wondering at exactly what time of day I am writing this and what I may have consumed in the course of my musings. Let me enlighten you. Tony Bennett, artist and crooner, featured in many obituaries and I read a lot of them. He had a career bookended with huge success but in his middle years before his son took over his management, he abused alcohol and drugs. Helped by his family, he recovered and will be remembered for his wonderful singing and painting. One quote attributed to Bennett is: “The trick is to survive success. Anyone can survive failure”.  I thought about this and it stopped me from discussing anything with my friend other than that he was happy with the successful outcome achieved by his lawyer. Yes, I thought it could have been done differently and could possibly have achieved more but he had decided that he had managed to get what he wanted and even when further but less important concessions may have been possible, he decided that enough was enough. He was content and ready to move on.

It’s a lesson for negotiators that, being clear about what our objectives are is crucial but also recognising when we have achieved those objectives is critically important, too. If you have managed to achieve a settlement providing enough money to buy yourself a new computer, don’t push your luck and ask for one on top of what you have already agreed with your counterparty. Wish lists to enrich a deal are essential but the items that comprise them are not to be exhaustively checked off until none are left. Don’t hazard success and court potential failure by greedy end-game tactics.  Define carefully what success will look like, recognise when you have it and proceed to nail it down so it won’t slip through your fingers.  Follow in the steps of the great singer and make sure you go  (in the words of his song) “From Rags to Riches” and not the other way around!

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